Book Review: The Saltwater Frontier by Andrew Lipman

The State of the Discipline Series: Part I

Most historical accounts of the colonisation of New England focus on  territorial claims made on certain swathes of land between the Hudson River and Cape Cod. Not so Andrew Lipman. Unequivocal in his rejection of ‘surf and turf’ histories, in The Saltwater Frontier Lipman argues that by focusing on the ocean itself as a paradigm of shifting territories, his book offers ‘a new way of thinking about Indian history and a new way of understanding this all-too-familiar region’. Continue reading

Book Review: An American Genocide by Benjamin Madley

In ‘An American Genocide’, Benjamin Madley analyses the devastating demographic decline of California Indians. California’s Native American population declined from about 150,000 people to 30,000 in the period 1846-1873. Madley draws heavily on the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. As he explains, this convention provides a powerful analytical tool to help scholars explain what happened to California’s indigenous people. Continue reading

“Exceptional Zombie Cannibals” – Antonia Bird’s ‘Ravenous’ (1999) and the discourse of American exceptionalism

In the last couple of decades, a conflict has emerged between the perception of exceptionalist rhetoric as a historical symbol of American patriotism and the much more harrowing visions pervading the present-day political stage. For a historian of the antebellum era, such as myself, “American exceptionalism” is synonymic with a post-War of Independence period when America rapidly transformed from a remote and largely unexplored land mass into a force to be reckoned with in the world arena (as noted by non-American observers at the time such as Alex De Tocqueville). Continue reading

Edward S. Morse: A look at Meiji Japan

Using primary sources from ‘Meiji Japan' - an Adam Matthew collection

From 1633 until 1853, the military governments of Japan enforced a policy of sakoku or ‘closed country’ which prevented foreigners from entering Japan on penalty of death, and prohibited Japanese citizens from leaving. This isolationist period was brought to an abrupt end in July 1853 when American Commodore Matthew Perry steamed four warships into Tokyo bay and threatened to open fire unless the Japanese agreed to enter into trade negotiations. Continue reading

Nantucket as a Summer Holiday Destination

Using primary sources from ‘Leisure, Travel and Mass Culture - The History of Tourism' - an Adam Matthew collection

The small spit of land off the coast of Massachusetts which maps refer to as ‘Nantucket’ was called the ‘far away land’ by its first settlers, the Wampanoag Nation. Nowadays, this small island, which at just under 273 km squared is smaller than Malta or the Maldives, is easy to reach by long-distances bus and the ‘Cape Flyer’, by high-speed ferry or by commercial airline. Continue reading

Book Review: American Niceness: A Cultural History by Carrie Tirado Bramen

When the current U.S. president, as Bramen puts it in her wide-ranging cultural study, ‘epitomizes the bombastic chauvinism of the Ugly American’ (1), the concept of American niceness sounds at best like an out-dated but innocuous cliché and, at worst, like a dangerous fiction. As American Niceness sets out to prove, the trope of the kind and generous American has yet to fall out of fashion and the role that it has played in disguising a long history of ugly violence might account for its unstinting survival. Continue reading

Charles J.C. Hutson and Confederate Flag Culture

Using primary sources from ‘American History 1493-1945' - an Adam Matthew collection

The letters of Charles J.C. Hutson, a former student of South Carolina College and a soldier in the First South Carolina Volunteers, provide insight on various topics pertaining to the American Civil War era. Held at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and accessible via Adam Matthew Digital’s ‘American History 1493-1945’ collection, the bulk of the materials pertain to the war period (1861-1865). Continue reading

Book Review: The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years by Robert M. Thorson

Most biographers have ignored Henry David Thoreau’s relationship to the river but Robert Thorson here aims to correct this narrow focus by arguing that the river – the active ever-changing water bustiling with activity both human and natural – is as much a part of Thoreau’s canon and its landscape as the still water of Walden Pond. In this book Thorson envisions Thoreau’s environment as a hybrid of land and water, and the man as a boatman as much as a woodsman. Continue reading

Represented in the American Hemisphere: The United Kingdom, the Rise of Pan-Americanism, and the Canadian Question

Using primary sources from ‘Confidential Print: North America, 1824-1961' - an Adam Matthew collection

In 1990, Canada became a fully-fledged member of the Organization of American States (OAS). Whilst the diplomatic implications of joining an inter-American political system were obvious, Canadian membership additionally symbolised that Pan-Americanism now encompassed the sovereign British dominion. Although it remains a contested concept, Pan-Americanism is the idea that the nations of the Americas ought to cooperate for mutual benefit because they share a distinct inter-American relationship that separates them from the rest of the world. Continue reading